I don't know why this bothers me so much, being called "ma'am." I am, after all, 30, pregnant and happen to have some laugh lines that could be construed as wrinkles.
It happened recently on the subway coming home from work. The subways were packed because train service was down courtesy of Hurricane Sandy . There I stood, holding onto the pole, balancing my growing tummy, my bag and my awesome game of Tetris on my iPhone.
A man, no more than 40, sat reading his newspaper, occasionally glancing up at me clearly having that internal monologue wherein he debated with himself whether I was, in fact, pregnant and therefore he should give up his seat, or just fat. A few stops went by, and a woman sitting in front of me offered me her seat. I politely declined, thinking how good it felt to stand up after sitting all day.
And then it happened. A shrill, 20-something voice broke the silence as the train clacked over the bridge. "Ma'am?" she said. I didn't respond, thinking she couldn't possibly talking to me. "Ma'am?" the young woman likely born in the 1990s said again. "Would you like to sit down?"
I was too stunned to respond. This kind young woman, who looked to be quietly doing her homework, was calling me ma'am. Has it really come to this? After realizing the silence, I quickly said, "No, I'm fine, but thank you."
I spent the rest of the train ride feeling--what?--uncertain, definitely unhappy and maybe even a little bit sad.
While I'm under no false pretenses that I'm a spring chicken, I still consider myself to be in my post-graduate years. In fact, I planned to remain in my post-graduate years for quite a long time. Have those times come and gone? Am I now relegated to the role of being someone's mother, even though I won't literally be for a few more months? I still bristle ever-so-slightly when someone calls me a woman rather than a girl (whole other loaded issue, I know).
Am I overreacting? Did a stranger on the subway see me--a pregnant woman--and automatically call me ma'am just out of courtesy? Possibly.
In reflecting on the moment a few weeks later, I think what jarred me most about my ma'aming wasn't just that a younger woman acknowledged my post-graduate status in public. Maybe what really got me was that she recognized that I've moved on to the next phase of my life--before I could admit it to myself.